PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, January 29, 2015 (AMG) — Anti-government protests are raging throughout the Haitian capital city of Port-au-Prince as President Michel Martelly continues to resist popular demands for political change. Dissidents in the thousands are calling for Martelly’s immediate resignation, and for the formation of a provisional consensus government to replace his highly unpopular regime.
When protesters found their way to the headquarters of Martelly’s political party, Fusion, on January 17, partisan provocateurs instigated violence among the demonstrators by throwing rocks. Haitian police reportedly responded by training their guns on the protestors and opening fire, seriously wounding numerous members of the anti-government movement. Yet, despite this brutal repression, political demonstrations still persist.
Since coming to power in 2011, Martelly has successfully resisted holding elections. Protesters are condemning the illegitimacy of Paul’s appointment and are calling for an investigation into the alleged corruption of his predecessor, Laurent Lamothe.
The problem with Martelly: At the center of Haitians’ dissatisfaction with Martelly’s presidency is his regime’s close relations with certain foreign governments, specifically the U.S., France and Canada, which have had influential roles in Haiti’s political affairs.
File photo: Michel Martelly. Credit: Cancillería del Ecuador
This neocolonial arrangement — along with a devastating 2010 earthquake and its disastrous aftermath — has retarded Haiti’s development and created a situation of dysfunctional dependency between Haiti and more developed countries in North America and Europe.
Agricultural dependency: In 1995, the foreign-backed Haitian government was compelled to sign off on the first in a series of so-called “free trade” deals which opened up Haiti’s largely agricultural economy to competition in the international marketplace. Predictably, Haitian farmers were unable to compete with highly-subsidized U.S. agribusiness, and more than 800,000 Haitian farmers were economically displaced.
By 2003, about 80% of the rice consumed in Haiti – a country renowned for its highly effective rice cultivation methods prior to 1995 – was being imported from foreign countries.
In 2013, 50% of Haiti’s overall food supply was derived from foreign imports, the majority of which came from the U.S. The chain of events bears strong similarities to shocks experienced by the Mexican agricultural sector after the ratification and implementation of North American Free Trade Act (NAFTA) in 1994.
After the deterioration of its domestic food supply and traditional rural economy, Haiti became a destination for the unwanted surplus products of various American food conglomerates. Firms routinely sold their excess production — mostly dark meat and poultry — to the U.S. government for use as “food aid” to populations in Haiti and other countries of the Global South that have been impoverished by imposed neoliberal policies and free trade agreements.
Speaking on the U.S. government’s campaign to alter the Haitian economy throughout the 1990s, Leah Chavla of the Council on Hemispheric Relations argued:
U.S. experts worked to disassemble Haiti’s rural economy, even though USAID officials recognized that such a move could increase poverty and contribute to a decline in average Haitian income and health standards
The business of disaster relief: The horrific 2010 earthquake that struck Haiti – which impacted at least 3 million Haitians – provided new business opportunities for concentrated private power in North America and Europe in Haiti – especially for multinational mining, garment and tourism firms.
Instead of funding vitally-needed social services and dilapidated or nonexistent infrastructure in Haiti, the overwhelming majority of foreign disaster and development aid in the wake of the earthquake has gone directly into the coffers of businesses and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) from those same donor countries.
For instance, the four private contractors that received the most funding from the U.S. government in the form of aid to Haiti in the five years after the earthquake were well-placed American consulting firms with contracts in Haiti. In that period, those four firms alone were collectively paid upwards of $200 million in American aid.
Dubious success stories: One of the purported successes of the international aid effort in Haiti was the opening of the Caracol Industrial Park in 2013, thanks to funding from foreign aid groups like the Clinton Foundation. Though the construction of the Caracol facility displaced numerous Haitian farmers -most of whom remain landless- the project was lauded internationally as a valid mechanism to promote social mobility and employment in Haiti.
In reality, the park amounted to little more than a massive sweat shop. The primary employer there is a Korean apparel company called Sae-A, which supplies mega-retailers like Wal-Mart with cheap clothing products, and maintains lucrative contracts with popular brand names like Ralph Lauren, Gap, H&M and Old Navy. After accounting for food and transportation needs, workers at the industrial park earn a pitiful $1.36 a day.
Notably, Haitians today earn less than they did during the Duvalier dictatorship thirty years ago.
In 2012, it was also reported that the Clinton-Bush Haiti Fund had invested $2 million in a project to construct a deluxe Royal Oasis Hotel in an area heavily populated by Haitians displaced by the 2010 earthquake; this just after the International Financial Corporation (IFC) – a member of the World Bank Group – invested $26.5 million in the building of a similar hotel for Marriott in Haiti. These new hotels – even if successful – would have a very limited impact on Haitian employment levels – especially among the 80,000 Haitians who remain displaced by the earthquake.
File photo: Credit: Digital Democracy
UN peacekeeping mission: Forces from MINUSTAH, the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti, are the second largest recipients of U.S. federal Haiti aid after the Haitian Health Ministry, having been allocated $117,111,216 by U.S. State Department in 2013 alone.
MINUSTAH forces have been operating in Haiti since a coup d’état that drove popularly-elected Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide from office in 2004 – a coup which Aristide maintains was orchestrated by the US government, but for which Washington denies culpability.
Aristide and his popular political party Fanmi Lavalas had repudiated the neoliberal policies of the 1990s, drawing strong criticism from Washington over his regime. A wave of violence against supporters of Fanmi Lavalas by security forces followed Aristide’s ouster.
Reports of extrajudicial killing, political repression and sexual assault have marred MINUSTAH’s subsequent ten-year occupation of Haiti. The accidental introduction of cholera into the Haitian population by sick MINUSTAH soldiers -which killed about 9,000 Haitians and infected scores more- didn’t help either.
The unrest currently gripping Haiti has serious momentum. If protesters are able to topple Martelly’s pro-American regime, it will be the first step in achieving de-facto Haitian independence. This is a big “if”, however, as they will also need to overcome the pushback of local and international security forces that still occupy Haiti and prop up Martelly’s unpopular government.
Still, the situation in Haiti is unsustainable. The neoliberal development experiment is failing spectacularly for the majority of the Haitian population, and their additional exploitation -conscious or not- at the hands of international aid groups is even more glaring.
It remains vital for media attention to be paid to the situation on the ground in Haiti, and the shapers of the Haitian people’s unrest. Only then can a meaningful and global movement of solidarity take shape.
Until then, Haitians will struggle on.
Editor’s note – February 3, 2015: This article has been edited throughout for clarity and accuracy. Additional citations have been included since the publication of the original text. To contact the Staff Writer responsible for this article, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. For the supervising editor, contact email@example.com.
Cover image: Digital Democracy.